William Robert Guilfoyle ( 1840 - 1912)

Guilfoyle was an English landscape gardener and botanist, acknowledged as the architect of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne and was responsible for the design of many parks and gardens in Melbourne and regional Victoria.

The Guilfoyle family migrated to Sydney in 1849 on board the Steadfast. Later after arriving, Michael Guilfoyle established Guilfoyle’s Exotic Nursery in Double Bay on land owned by Thomas Sutcliffe Mort. Here he was a leading supplier of the exotic Jacaranda tree using his own grafting methods. William was privately educated at Lyndhurst College, Glebe where he received botanical instruction by William Woolls, William Sharp MacLeay (1792–1865) and John MacGillivray (1821–1867), who all encouraged him to follow in his father’s career. In 1868 William Guilfoyle was appointed to the scientific staff of HMS Challenger that travelled the Pacific Ocean. Guilfoyle settled in the Tweed River valley where he grew tobacco and sugar cane and first met the noted German botanist, Ferdinand von Mueller.

After being appointed director of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, Guilfoyle set about creating the Gardens’ world-famous “picturesque” landscape style. Over the next 35 years, Guilfoyle sculpted sweeping lawns, meandering paths and glittering lakes, creating a series of vistas offering a surprise around every corner. The swamp and lagoon were separated from the Yarra River under the direction of Carlo Catani (1852–1918), a civil engineer with the Public Works Department, allowing Guilfoyle to create the chain of ornamental lakes further adding to the beauty of the gardens. A feature of Guilfoyle’s designs were the erection of over a dozen structures in the Gardens, including pavilions, summer houses, rotundas and ‘temples’. These structures were generally located at junctions along the path system and took advantage of an attractive view. They were also practical buildings providing much needed shelter from Melbourne’s hot summer sun and unpredictable rain. The Rose Pavilion, for instance, was used for band recitals during the summer months.

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